Wall Lizards Modulate Refuge Use through Continuous Assessment of Predation Risk Level


José Martín, Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, E-28006 Madrid, Spain. E-mail: jose.martin@mncn.csic.es


Prey species might use several possible ways to assess predation risk when encountering a predator. Animals may consider the risk level estimated in a first encounter to remain unchanged across subsequent encounters (fixed risk response), or they may update and change their responses across encounters in accordance with short-term changes in risk levels (flexible risk response). We examined in the field how wall lizards assess risk level by analyzing time spent in refuges after simulated predator attacks. We first examined how risk was assessed when multiple consecutive sources of risk were present simultaneously. The results suggest that wall lizards assess risk based on multiple cues, such as approach speed, directness, and persistence (measured as the distance of the predator to their refuge after an attack). When risk was high lizards remained longer in their refuges. The first decision to appear partly from the refuge depended on both approach speed and persistence, whereas the decision to emerge completely depended only on persistence and not on approach speed. This suggests that wall lizards update information on predator threat and adjusted their emergence accordingly. In a second experiment, we analyzed how short-term changes in risk level of successive attacks affected refuge use. Successive emergence times varied as a function of current risk level of each repeated attack, independently of the risk level of previous attacks. This indicated that lizards could track short-term changes in risk level through time and modify their initial responses when required. Fine adjustments of refuge use may help lizards to minimize costs of refuge use in unfavorable and variable environments where antipredatory responses are costly.